"Concert" by Lorenzo Costa. From the Wikimedia Commons

(from an old proverb)

I wasn’t always able to sing. Believe it or not, there was a long span of time when my voice sounded like nails in gravel. When I couldn’t sustain a note to save my life…

When I was a toddler, my family had made a surprise visit to Grandma’s house. Grandma was a professional portrait artist, and her workspace was always filled with her paints and brushes and cleaners. As we walked through the door, she told my mom that she hadn’t had time to baby-proof the house.

I was fast. Before anyone could even breathe, I had made a beeline to Grandma’s art table. I grabbed her jar of brush cleaner, her paint thinner, and tipped it over on my face.

To make a long, involved story shorter, it was a very touch-and-go situation. The doctors diagnosed me with chemical-caused pneumonia. The paint thinner had burned everything: nasal cavity, mouth, throat, windpipe, lungs, vocal chords. I don’t remember any of this, but my recovery was very slow. I defied the doctors’ dire predictions of imminent death and pulled through to have a fairly normal childhood.

It wasn’t until I was in high school that I began to be able to hold a pitch with my voice. It was frustrating, because I have perfect pitch and could hear the note I was trying to hit! But my voice was like a wild horse — perfect one minute, then bouncing wildly away the next. My mom didn’t want me to sing (because it was so painful to her ears, she said), so I only sang when I was alone in the car or home by myself. Every day it got a little easier. Slowly, I tamed my wild vocals into some semblance of order. I had this dream that one day I would sing on stage, just me and a guitar, likely because that option was taken from me so early, and we always want the things we’re told we can’t have…

I have scar tissue in my lungs to this day. Usually, I don’t notice — mostly because I can’t remember a time when I didn’t get out of breath after minimal exercise. I have a strange, limited vocal range. I’ll never be an opera singer because I’m neither a Tenor nor an Alto nor a Soprano. My range of notes fluctuates daily. My voice gets tired sometimes if I do too much talking and reverts back to its rough quality even despite the practicing I do.

But I can sing. When I write for myself, my limitations are less pronounced. And every time I get up on that stage with my ukulele or my guitar, it’s a good day because I have found my song.


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